Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg
Chief Rabbinate’s Unanimous Decision
[2 minutes 27 seconds]
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel was asked by the Ministry of Health to give the opinion, the halachic opinion concerning how transplantation, when it became a possibility in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate appointed a special committee of rabbis and physicians that studied the matter both from the medical and the halachic points of view and came to the conclusion unanimously that cessation of breathing, in an irreversible fashion that can be verified objectively, is the moment of death and hence a person can become an organ donor even though his heart is still beating. These deliberations took a while; the rabbis studied it very carefully, and got witnesses, experts from the medical field. They included also rabbis outside of the Rabbinate: Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, who was the son-in- law of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. And included were the two Chief Rabbis at the time, Rav Shapiro and Rav Eliyahu, and Rav Yisraeli who was considered one of the major poskim in Israel, as well as Rabbi Lau who became subsequently the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen who subsequently became chief rabbi of Haifa; Rav Shloosh who became Chief Rabbi of Netanya. And as I said (they) unanimously agreed to this position based on the sugya [section] in Yuma which clearly states that it all depends on breathing, based on the verse in the Bible, and on all the halachic sources that are mentioned in this paragraph in the Talmud. There is a debate there whether it is breathing or heart beating, but the ruling goes by Rambam and by the Shulchan Aruch is that we go according to breathing, and that’s a clear ruling which was accepted throughout generations.